An infallible formula for never lapsing into inactivity in the Church

An infallible formula for never lapsing into inactivity in the Church September 5, 2022

 

The temple in Zollikofen
The Bern Switzerland Temple, beloved to me since my days as a missionary in that country, is actually located in the suburb of Zollikofen.  (LDS Media Library)

 

The inexplicably weird English of the headline continues throughout the article.  Still, I think that some of you will find it of interest:

 

“Can BYU is mainstream and can still be ‘not of the world’?”

 

The temple in Zollikofen
The Bern Switzerland Temple from a slightly different angle (LDS.org)

 

One day, many years ago while I was serving as a missionary in Interlaken, Switzerland, I sat in sacrament meeting.  The speaker was a counselor in the mission presidency.  (I was fairly green, still a rather new missionary, and my part-member family hadn’t been especially active; it was the first time that I had even realized that there were counselors in a “mission presidency.”)  I don’t recall his name.  It was the only time that I ever saw him or so much as heard of him.  I do recall, however, that he was French Swiss — which surprised me a bit, since French-speaking Switzerland was then under the mission that was headquartered in Geneva.  Mine was the German-speaking Swiss mission, based in Zürich.  He must have been (and I seem to recall that he was) a Francophone Swiss who was living and working in the German part of the country.  (As of 2016, 62.8% of the population of Switzerland was German-speaking, 22.9% of the Swiss population [located in the southwest] spoke French, 8.2% [in the south] was Italian-speaking, and a whopping 0.5% of the Swiss [living in the canton of Graubünden or Grisons] were native speakers of Romansch, though almost all of those Romansch-speakers were and are also fluent in German or French.  After all, Romansch, which is allegedly the closest living relative of ancient military Latin, doesn’t exactly take one very far.  Not even within Switzerland itself.)

 

But back to the story.  This man, although he was French Swiss, spoke in German.  And, at the beginning of his remarks, he indicated that he was going to share his simple but infallible formula for never going inactive in the Church.  I’ll admit that his announced theme caught my attention.  I wondered what on earth he was going to say.  How would he deliver on his promise?

 

He spoke for quite a while before sharing his formula.  I don’t remember anything, really, of what he said.  Finally, though, he laid out his formula:  The secret that would guarantee never slipping into inactivity, he confided, was to never skip church.

 

I remember thinking, “That’s it?  Really?”  Not only wasn’t it particularly deep or exciting.  It actually seemed purely tautological.  Like announcing, as if it were some great and stunning scientific discovery wrung out of the data at the end of a prolonged and difficult program of research, that all bachelors appear to be unmarried men.  Well of course they are!  It’s purely a matter of definition, with no empirical research required.  Similarly, no real research is needed in order to declare that all triangles have three angles, or that a crowd of twenty people is smaller than a crowd of two hundred people.  Inactivity in the Church is, pretty much by common definition among Latter-day Saints, a prolonged failure to attend church services.  Thus, by sheer definition, a person who never misses church cannot be inactive in the Church.

 

I wasn’t really expecting anything magical but, still, I was more than a little bit disappointed.  In the decades since that experience, though, I’ve come to think differently about the miraculous formula that he shared, and I really do think that it conveys something important.

 

Things may be different today.  My impression is that there are more people leaving the Church today quite deliberately — whether because they’ve come to disbelieve its doctrines or to find something unacceptable in its history or to reject and repudiate its teachings on sexuality, or some combination or permutation of the foregoing — than there were in the 1970s, when I was sitting there in that Alpine sacrament meeting.  Many apostasies today, at least in the comfortable world of North America and Europe, seem more conscious and intentional.  Back then, though, I think there were fewer.  Most people who were once committed members but had dropped out of the community of the Saints seemed to me then, although I can’t prove it and although I may be wrong, to have pretty much drifted away.  Sometimes it was because they had lapsed in their adherence to the Word of Wisdom or to the law of chastity.  Sometimes they had been offended.  Sometimes, they simply found the demands of the Church — e.g., the meetings, the callings, and so forth — too onerous, and they wanted a break.

 

Relatively few, I think, woke up one Sunday morning and said to themselves, “I think I’ll leave the Church, starting today.”  Most, if I’m not mistaken, said to themselves something like this: “I just don’t feel like going.  After what Sister Schmidt said to me last Sunday [or because I’m so very tired, or because I feel guilty about x, or whatever], I’m just not in the mood to attend church today.   I think I’ll take a break this morning.”  And then it’s easier to miss the next week, and even easier the week after that.  And, eventually, the habit of attendance is broken.  Besides, how would one explain one’s absence for all those weeks?  “I’ll go back next Sunday.”  Or something to that general effect.

 

The most common German verbal equivalent of the English to apostatize is abfallen, which really means “to fall away.”  This sense seems to fit what I was observing back then.  Today, even though the majority of departures from the Church still seem to me likely cases of “falling away,” there are now relatively more instances of what the Greeks called ἀποστασία (apostasy), which carries the more deliberate sense of “defection” or even “rebellion.”

 

I once, by sheer chance, met a man while I was going door to door who had been inactive in the Church since the dedication of the Bern Switzerland Temple in 1955.  (This would have been, I think, in either 1972 or 1973 — so, nearly twenty years later.)  He had been in attendance there at the dedication.  But, just prior to one of the meetings, another brother had pointed out to him that he had a spot on his tie.  And had done so, this inactive man told me, very curtly and unkindly.  And the man relating the story to me had been so offended that he had stopped going to church.  For nearly two decades!  (For all I know, the brother who had allegedly offended him — whether he had really been curt and unkind or not, I cannot say — had died in the meantime.  And it was certainly possible that the offender, if still alive, didn’t even remember the incident or had never been aware of giving offense in the first place.)  But this fellow, who had been active enough at one point to attend the dedication of the first temple in the eastern hemisphere, had now been out of the Church for two decades, and showed not the slightest indication of ever going back.  Was he really still angry about so minor a slight?  I doubt it very much.  Had he intended back then, to completely leave the Church?  Again, I doubt it very much.  He had simply, and very quickly, broken the habit of church attendance.

 

So the suggestion that inactivity in the Church can be avoided by resolving never to miss church meetings seems a little bit less empty to me, and a little bit wiser, than it did when I first heard it.

 

 


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